Congress gives nod to nanotechnology

The fate of the president's National Nanotechnology Initiative was uncertain throughout the budget process as the funding for long-term research on ways to control materials on the atomic level came up against near-term problems such as veterans' benefits and housing. But the initiative emerged mostly intact in the end.

Of the total $495 million request for NNI, funding at the six participating agencies — including the lead agency, the National Science Foundation — totaled $423 million for fiscal 2001. The NNI request was a $225 million increase from the funding received in fiscal 2000.

"The important thing was getting the science community out to support it," said a White House staff member. "That made the difference."

The difference was seen particularly at the Energy Department, where most of the NNI budget in the Office of Science was eliminated early on. But supporters of NNI managed to convince Congress that basic science is an important part of a balanced research portfolio, the White House staff member said. NIST tends to have difficulty getting funding for new scientific and technological research because the agency's budget is included in the bill for the departments of Commerce, Justice and State, agencies not oriented toward research.

Of particular concern is language in the conference report for NSF that expresses appropriators' concerns that NSF cannot lead two multiyear, multiagency initiatives — Information Technology Research (ITR) and NNI — with limited personnel resources.

George Strawn, executive officer of NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, said Congress should look at the success of ITR as a model for how NSF could coordinate NNI.

The directorate accepted double the proposals it received for ITR the previous year with only modest increases in resources, Strawn said. "This year, our goal is to institutionalize our gains," he said.

How nanotechnology fared in the budget

AgencyRequestFinal
NIST$18 million$10 million
DOD$110 million$110 million
DOE$94 million$93 million
NASA$20 million$21 million
NIH$36 million$39 million
NSF$216.7 million$150 million

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